RealTime IT News

Microsoft Wins a Spot on the Set-top

Continuing its drive to gain a foothold outside of the (PC) box, Microsoft Thursday used IBC2002 in Amsterdam as a platform to announce support by major set-top box and digital media appliance chip makers, as well as European broadcast technology firms, for its Windows Media 9 Series.

Windows Media 9 Series, formerly code-named Corona, was unleashed last week in Los Angeles.

In the past few years, Microsoft has been striving to push its influence beyond the slumping PC market in an effort to diversify its revenue streams. The software giant has played aggressively for the handheld and game console spaces, and has dipped its toes in the embedded operating system market, interactive television, and other digital media appliances.

From the beginning, Microsoft has made it clear that it will be focus its strategy on securing hardware partners for the Corona technology, while also seeking to reel in the entertainment industry with a new distribution outlet for its products.

The customer wins announced Thursday, which include chip makers Equator Technologies, National Semiconductor, Sigma Designers, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments, will help Microsoft work its way deeper into the set-top box market. Microsoft has also won over broadcast systems hardware firms TANDBERG Television and Optibase, box makers Pace Micro Technologies and Moviesystem, and VoD provider Yes Television.

"Windows Media 9 Series is a significant step forward in the evolution of digital television, especially for telcos and broadband network operators that deliver more content and services than ever," said Tim Fern, chief technology officer at Pace Micro Technology, which will manufacture set-top boxes using chips that support Microsoft's Windows Media 9 Series. "Advanced silicon supporting Windows Media 9 Series has been important to our development of the world's first Windows Media 9 Series set-top box, which will be on show at IBC2002. Not only has it helped us make product costs viable, it has reduced our time to market -- crucial factors for our telco and operator customers."

The partnership with set-top box chip makers will especially help to drive Microsoft deep into the market. Equator, whose BSP series System-on-a-chip processors support Windows Media 9 Audio and Video supplies its chips to many set-top box manufacturers, including Pace. National Semiconductor, which has provided support for playback and decoding of Windows Media Audio and Video in its Geode processors and Geode CS1201 media coprocessor, supplies chips to Pioneer, and other Japanese manufacturers. Sigma Design's new EM8500 DVD decoder chip supports playback of Windows Media Audio -- and future chips will support video -- and supplies chips to Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Samsung Electronics and Kreatel Communications AB.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is making strides among European broadcast hardware and distribution firms. NTL Broadcast, partnered with TANDBERG, used IBC2002 as an opportunity to demonstrate their new technology, which uses Windows Media Video 9 format to encode high-quality video and then deliver it in real time over a DVB-T mobile network to moving vehicles in Amsterdam. IBC shuttle vehicles, traveling through Amsterdam will receive ITN news stories and British Eurosport video via the standard DVB-T infrastructure.

Of course, Microsoft is not the only digital video and audio technology firm that is aiming to nest itself inside digital media appliances. Competitor DivXNetworks, in April, cozied up to Texas Instruments, which is embedding DivX's codec on its chips. And earlier that month, it partnered with e.Digital, which is using DivX's technology in its consumer electronics devices, including MP3 players.

"We are pursuing relationships with a number of different chip companies to port DivX to their chips for a number of devices," said DivXNetworks spokesman Tom Huntington. He noted that more partnerships will be announced soon.

"We're very much a consumer facing company," Huntington said. "Our company is still driven by consumers, but consumers are demanding convergence devices that allow them to play back their DivX videos."

Huntington said the firm is developing relationships with both large and small content providers, and has had some "encouraging conversations" with a number of Hollywood studios.

But while DivXNetworks is looking to forge partnerships with more mainstream content distributors, Huntington also noted that the company is being careful to keep its eye on what it's users want and need.

"Our strategy is driven by what consumers want," he said. "They want to be able to create and distribute their own videos. There's a whole universe of other content outside mainstream Hollywood that is particularly attractive to our users."